For love, friendship, and respect

Simon Bollin of Vineyard Haven. Photo by Susan Safford
Simon Bollin of Vineyard Haven chose red roses. Photos by Susan Safford

By Pat Waring - February 16, 2006

We stopped by Morrice the Florist Tuesday afternoon for a little Valentine spirit. It was the right place to look: the parking lots, front and back, were jammed. Inside, a line of customers - mostly men - wound around the coolers and flower displays to the counter where several remarkably cheerful women dispensed bouquets, arrangements, advice, and Valentine's Day greetings.

Customers ranged in age from teens and twenties, shyly buying flowers for perhaps the first time, to grown-up playboys sending bouquets to several sweeties and mature family men buying for longtime heart-throbs. Dressed in everything from Carhartts and sweatshirts and boots to slacks and jackets, many were taking a quick flower-buying break from work.

Most the men entered the colorful shop with a tentative air, but others were clearly old hands at buying flowers for their sweethearts, and stepped up with confidence. Some of the more savvy had ordered ahead, like Jim Hickey of Chilmark who was picking up a dozen red roses for Robin Smith. "I've done it in years past and run around like a nut," laughed Jim, glad he had ordered early.

Margaret Mirko. Photo by Susan Safford
Margaret Mirko wrapped dozens of roses, smiling all the while.

Ray Billings of Vineyard Haven came by for the delicate red-and-white arrangement - roses, carnations, daisies - he had ordered for Doris, his bride of 54 years, the flowers as cheerful and perky as she is. Simon Bollin of Vineyard Haven, a familiar face behind the counter at Radio Shack, had roses on his mind too. He planned to set the flowers out so they would be ready when his wife, Robyn, got home. But flowers weren't all. Simon also chose a cuddly stuffed bear for his 16-month-old daughter, Kayleigh.

Monte Pearse came for the bouquet he had picked out yesterday, roses, fresia, yellow daisies "to perk it up a little bit," and a single yellow snapdragon for his wife, Judy. Would she be surprised? "I give her flowers several times a year," Monte confided, a man who knows how to keep the romance in his 10-year marriage.

Doug Best of Oak Bluffs breezed in to collect a delicate pastel-toned arrangement for his wife, Maureen, and snagged a pot of mini-daffodils, just bursting into bloom, for his little girl Hannah - something she can water and watch grow, he explained. "I thought it would be a nice touch, especially since we're all dieting - no candy!" he laughed.

Darby Patterson. Photo by Susan Safford
Darby Patterson helping behind the counter.

"You can't let go," said Olsen Houghton to his daughter, Caitlin, five, who was clutching the string of the blue balloon a staff member gave her for being so patient in line. Soon Mr. Houghton collected his three flower orders - one for his wife, one for his daughter Molly, and, he whispered, one was a surprise for the patient Caitlin.

A young man in a green jacket walked in decisively and within minutes left with bunch of plump pastel tulips. John Clarke's order of flowers for wife, Nancy, and daughter, Katy, were all ready when he arrived.

John Weron and his son, fourth-grader Colby, left with two pretty arrangements for their wife and mom, Erika. Colby also clutched a couple of chocolate treats ("for his girlfriends" said his dad).

"I'm buying six red roses for my beautiful girlfriend," announced Alex King. He added that girlfriend, Sabrina Hart, was home sick, so the pair would have to skip dinner out, but Alex planned to prepare some sushi, which she loves.

Jackson Kenworth, owner of the popular Sweet Life and Slice of Life restaurants in Oak Bluffs, picked three perfect roses for his wife Mary. "One is for love, one is for friendship, and one is for respect," he explained.

Some of the guys were not so sure, once confronted with the array of lush roses, feathery asters, dramatic lilies, lilacs and mums and elegant orchids. But staff members gently guided them - "What colors? How big a bouquet? Basket or vase? Does she like pink?" By the time they left, purchases proudly in hand, it was as though they had figured it all out themselves.

Karen Coffey chatted with customers brightly as she wrapped, and explained she was "making a walk-on appearance," helping out on this festive day for the delight of it. Margaret Mirko handed over bouquets with a smile as her daughter, eight-year-old Darby Patterson, lent a hand behind the counter along with new employee Kristen Smith.

Men accounted for most of Tuesday's business, but women came in too. Alice Charlton from Oak Bluffs stood in line, enjoying the leisure to browse the bright displays as she decided what to buy for her daughter, Sherry Strople. A young mother arrived late with her school-aged daughter. They consulted at length, finally picking two perfect roses, a pink and a yellow, one in each ribboned package, and two heart-shaped balloons. A toddler in a stroller grinned and giggled as his mom handed him a bright Valentine balloon.

In the spacious back room, surrounded by tubs of flowers and rolls of ribbons, owner Kim

O'Callaghan and 20-year employee Sharon Capen, along with part-timer Linda Carroll and others, arranged blossoms in vases and baskets as fast as they could before other employees tore in to snatch them away.

Serene and smiling in the midst of the flurry, Kim said she had her first job at age 12 here when her grandfather, James Morrice, owned the shop. Mr. Morrice founded the business in 1940, she said, holding up his old scissors, marked with his initials, that still hang by his work area. Her mother, Janet Novak, who died just before last Thanksgiving, bought the store in the early 1980's. According to Kim, Janet loved the business and worked hard until she became unable. Now the store belongs to Kim, a gentle, soft-spoken woman who bears a striking resemblance to her late mom and seems to enjoy working with flowers just as much.

Only after 5:30 pm did the pace slow. Out back, the women turned their attention to sweeping the floor littered with petals and leaves, clearing the work counters, and packing up the trash. From the original shipments of some 3,000 roses on hand last Friday, only two or three dozen remained, and those decidedly worse for the wear. The women behind the counter relaxed and chatted easily as they tidied up. Kim came out to check the decimated display area and coolers, picking up a flower here, rearranging a bouquet there.

"My mother would have loved today!" said Kim, looking around her store. "What my mother would do to have another day like this!"